Friday, June 26, 2009

MICHAEL JACKSON: The King (of Pop) is Dead

As everybody knows, Michael Jackson passed away yesterday in Los Angeles (1958-2009). He was rehearsing for his big comeback tour, something which even a casual fan like myself hoped against hope would be the return to form that everybody was always looking for. Twenty-seven years after his biggest album (which just happens to be the best-selling album of all time), he was still one of the biggest stars in the world, an international mega-celebrity the likes of which we will never see again. I remember my whole family going to see the "Victory Tour" from 1984. My mom even bought my sister, step-brother and I matching red vinyl jackets!

This is a tragedy and a shock, though sadly, I cannot say I am surprised. I always predicted an early Judy Garland-style end for Michael Jackson. Lost in the pop-fame hall of mirrors, I certainly couldn't see him getting old, gracefully or otherwise. The sad thing is, there is a whole generation who never knew him as anything other than a tabloid freak and late-night punchline. Hopefully the long view will prevail. Whatever negatives you can say about him (and people have said and will say plenty), the man was a genius of a performer, with a vocal and dance style that wove a myriad of influences into something truly unique - crossing lines of race, sexuality and musical genre in the process. He will truly be missed, and my prayers are with him and his family, especially the kids.

Here is a link to the infamous 1983 "Thriller" video, directed by John Landis. This was the first long-form video, and constitutes a self-contained mondo musical. I remember being scared silly by this when I was 10, even as I chuckled at the campy Vincent Price rap and thrilled to the dance moves and fantastic Quincy Jones-produced beat. Where this leaves the planned "Thriller" Broadway musical is unclear (hopefully they will quietly drop the idea).

Here's my personal favorite Michael Jackson song, "Smooth Criminal." A great track and another lavish video.

And speaking of amazing dance moves, here's what was, for me, his single finest moment - premiering the "moonwalk" dance in a live performance of "Billie Jean." He only does it twice, and briefly (first at about 3:30) but you can hear people crying out in surprise and delight when he does. The next day it was all anybody could talk about. Kind of like today, actually.


Friday, June 12, 2009


Adam Pascal talks to Playbill about his plans to bring the seminal 80s metal concept album by Queensrÿche to the stage.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

REPO! On the Road

The stage show Repo! The Genetic Opera (which spawned a movie musical) is hitting the road. Tour dates here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

CHESS - In Concert

On Wednesday June 17, the PBS series Great Performances will broadcast a spectacular concert performance of the Tim Rice - Benny Andersson - Björn Ulvaeus musical Chess. The concert, taped at the Royal Albert Hall, features Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal, plus the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra. A CD and DVD are released June 16.

This has long been one of my favorite shows. Chess was originally a 1984 concept album and was staged in 1986, with Murray Head and Elaine Paige. It tells the complicated tale of two chess champions, one American and one Russian, vying for the world championship, with Cold War politics and the messy entanglements of love looming over all. The ending is truly bittersweet, a rarity on the musical stage, but it fits a story where politics, national identity, ambition and status distort every relationship.

The acerbic lyrics are by Tim Rice, of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita fame, and the themes of politics and celebrity are right in line with his previous works. The ABBA duo of Andresson and Ulvaeus mix their trademark disco-pop with chamber music, sweeping orchestral interludes, and power ballads. The most famous number from the show, "One Night in Bangkok," was a big hit single for Murray Head. The show was a huge hit in London, though a Broadway version (with totally re-written book) was a flop. I saw the UK tour, which combined the best of both, in 1990 and was quite blown away. I can't wait to see this!